Conte prepared to ‘suffer’ to create a way past Barcelona
Antonio Conte is looking forward to pain. The Chelsea coach knows precisely what is required of his team to beat Barcelona on Wednesday and progress to the Champions League quarter-finals. And it will not be pretty.
“We must be prepared to suffer in this type of game,” he said. “Because when you play against this type of team, one of the best teams in the world, you must be prepared to suffer. It won’t be easy. But we have to try. We have to try the best solution to face this game.”
As far as warm-up acts go, playing Crystal Palace four days before the tie that will define his season may not have given Conte the kind of workout he might have wished for. Big, physical, starting the match in a revivalist 4-4-2 formation, this was hardly a Barca-like side visiting the Bridge. And in the first-half Chelsea were barely obliged to move out of second gear, never mind suffer.
They reached half-time two goals up through Willian and a Martin Kelly own goal and with the crowd anticipating not much more than a few early substitutions to rest key personnel.
However, the introduction of Wilfried Zaha changed the dynamic. Palace looked far more alert with him leading the line and after conceding a late goal Chelsea finished the game hanging on rather than strolling. For the Italian in the dugout it became a frustrating afternoon, though it was one he reckoned would help build resilience.
And this is what he says will be required if his team are to inflict a first home defeat on Barcelona this season. After watching his old club Juventus progress last week against Tottenham in very similar circumstances to those Chelsea face – winning away after drawing the home leg – he pointed out that his side lacks something the Old Lady has in abundance.
“For sure, Juventus showed great resilience, they suffered a lot, and in the right mind they killed Tottenham,” Conte said. “But don’t forget you are talking about a team with many players with great experience, many players who won the Champions League in this Juventus team. We don’t have this.”
Though when it comes to experience, at least one of his players knows where to seek advice.
Marcos Alonso may be about to make his first appearance at the Camp Nou, but his father Marcos played for Barca for five seasons in the Eighties. As for his grandfather, another Marcos, he won the European Cup five times with Real Madrid.
“My grandmother has five replica cups at home,” said Alonso of his family history. “It gives me extra motivation for sure. My grandfather used to say it was easy to play because he was a centre-back, he just used to get the ball back and give it to Di Stefano, Gento, Puskas.
“If you listen to him, when he used to talk about it, yeah, it sounds very easy, but today it is very hard and something amazing to fight for, starting from Wednesday.”
Watched by most of his family – who will all be rooting for Chelsea, he says – Alonso will have a critical counter-attacking role on Wednesday. As he demonstrated against Palace, at times he was the furthest forward of all their players, his swift interchange with Willian on the edge of the Palace box leading to the second goal.
“With teams like Barcelona and Man City it is not easy to keep possession – there will be times when we need to defend and be compact,” he said.
“But we have to score a goal and so we have to go for it. We will need to counter-attack. We showed against Barcelona here what kind of team we are, a good team that can compete against the top teams. We are sure of that and have to play another good game on Wednesday.”
Plus, if their manager’s instructions are to be followed, suffer. (© The Daily Telegraph)